Alex Rodriguez to face live pitching

Alex Rodriguez will take the first step in his road back to the New York Yankees by serving as the designated hitter Friday for Class A Tampa.

It will be Rodriguez's first swings at live pitching since he suffered a broken left hand after being hit by a pitch from the Mariners' Felix Hernandez on July 24 in Seattle.

General manager Brian Cashman ruled out any chance that Rodriguez could play for the Yankees in their crucial series this weekend against the Baltimore Orioles, who trail by just 3½ games in the AL East race entering Thursday afternoon's games, but left the door open for a possible return next week, when the Yankees travel to Tampa for three games against the third-place Rays, who are four games back.

"We'll be traveling down to him, so I'm certainly not ruling it out," Cashman said. "But let's see what we see this weekend."

Rodriguez was hitting .276 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs at the time of his injury. Eric Chavez has been a more-than-capable backup, playing in 25 of the 32 games Rodriguez has missed, batting .352 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in that span.

But the team overall has not fared as well without Rodriguez; since his injury, the Yankees are 17-15 and have seen their lead cut in half, from seven games to 3½.

"We miss Alex, there's no doubt about it," Cashman said. "He is a proven right-handed power bat and since we're a left-handed dominant lineup, he is vitally important to us, especially late in a game."

Cashman cautioned, however, that the return of Rodriguez would not be the cure-all for a team that has been just one game better than .500 -- 23-22 -- since the All-Star break.

"Alex is going to come back rusty, we have to be prepared for that," Cashman said. "If we're going to turn this around, it's going to have to be a team-wide effort."